Month: October, 2017

Astronomers May Have Found The First Exomoon

When the first exoplanet—or planet orbiting another star—was discovered in 1992, it was a very big deal.

Today, we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets and it takes a particularly noteworthy one to grab our attention.

We’ve spotted big exoplanets, small exoplanets, and everything in between.

Now scientists are moving on to the next big thing: Exomoons.




Researchers examining old data from the Kepler Space Telescope have spotted what they believe is the first-ever moon beyond our solar system to be found, and they’re planning to use the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm it.

As you might have guessed, the exomoon is an enormous one. The planet in question is Jupiter-sized, and the moon if it indeed exists is around the same size as Neptune.

The Kepler telescope observed the planet and its moon passing in front of their star, which caused the star’s brightness to dip slightly.

This exoplanet-exomoon pair is a strange one, and looks nothing like anything in our own solar system. The researchers believe that the larger, Jupiter-sized planet captured the smaller one and turned it from planet into moon.

Unfortunately, the observations from Kepler aren’t clear enough for the scientists to say definitively that the moon exists. That’s why they need to use Hubble to take a second look.

If Hubble confirms the moon’s existence, it will be the first exomoon ever found. With the many highly sensitive telescopes scheduled to be completed in the next few years, more exomoon discoveries are almost certain.

We’ll probably find a few really big moons over the next few years, and as our telescopes get better we might start finding moons that look like our own.

Pretty soon, exomoons will be old news too, so enjoy this discovery while it’s still fresh.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Meet The Russian Biologist Who Is Also A Pioneer Of Modern Genetics

Nikolai Konstantinovich Koltsov was a Russian biologist and a pioneer of modern genetics.

Koltsov graduated from Moscow University in 1894 and was a professor there (1895-1911).

He established and directed the Institute of Experimental Biology in the middle of 1917, just before the October revolution and was a member of the Agricultural Academy.

In 1920, Koltsov was arrested as a member of the non-existent “Anti-Soviet Tactical Center” invented by the VCheKa.

Prosecutor Nikolai Krylenko demanded the death sentence for Koltsov (67 of around 1000 arrested people were executed).

However, after a personal appeal to Vladimir Lenin by Maxim Gorky Koltsov was released and was restored to his position as the head of the Koltsov Institute of Experimental Biology.




Nikolai Koltsov worked on cytology and vertebrate anatomy. In 1903 Koltsov proposed that the shape of cells was determined by a network of tubules which he termed the cytoskeleton.

In 1927 Koltsov proposed that inherited traits would be inherited via a “giant hereditary molecule” which would be made up of “two mirror strands that would replicate in a semi-conservative fashion using each strand as a template“.

These ideas were confirmed to have been accurate in 1953 when James D. Watson and Francis Crick described the structure of DNA.

Watson and Crick had apparently not heard of Koltsov. US geneticist Richard Goldschmidt wrote about him: “There was the brilliant Nikolai Koltsov, probably the best Russian zoologist of the last generation, an enviable, unbelievably cultured, clear-thinking scholar, admired by everybody who knew him“.

In 1937 and 1939, the supporters of Trofim Lysenko published a series of propaganda articles against Nikolai Koltsov and Nikolai Vavilov.

They wrote: “The Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences not only did not criticize Professor Koltsov’s fascistic nonsense, but even did not dissociate itself from his “theories” which support the racial theories of fascists“.

His death in 1940 was claimed to have been due to a stroke. However, the biochemist Ilya Zbarsky revealed that the unexpected death of Koltsov was a result of his poisoning by the NKVD, the secret police of the Soviet Union.

The same day his wife, the scientist Maria Sadovnikova Koltsova, committed suicide.

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According To A New Study, Pollution Kills 9 Million People Each Year

Dirty air in India and China. Tainted water in sub-Saharan Africa.

Toxic mining and smelter operations in South America. Pollution around the globe now contributes to an estimated 9 million deaths  annually or roughly one in six according to an in-depth new study published in the Lancet.

If accurate, that means pollution kills three times more people each year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, with most of those deaths  in poor and developing countries.

Going into this, my colleagues and I knew that pollution killed a lot of people. But we certainly did not have any idea of the total magnitude of the problem,” said Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-chair of the commission behind the report.

I think all of us were really surprised when we saw this.

The two-year project, which relied on data from researchers in more than 130 countries documenting the causes of disease and premature deaths in recent decades, found that poor air quality was the most significant pollution-related killer.




That includes both outdoor pollution tainted by mercury, arsenic and other harmful particulates, and household air dirtied by the burning of wood, dung and other organic materials.

The result: An estimated 6.5 million deaths in 2015 from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.

Water pollution, which includes everything from unsafe sanitation to contaminated drinking water, accounted for an additional 1.8 million annual deaths from gastrointestinal diseases and other infections, researchers found.

Pollution in the workplace also took a heavy toll on some of the world’s poorest workers.

From bladder cancer in dye workers to the lung disease pneumoconiosis in coal miners, researchers found that occupational exposure to various carcinogens and toxins was linked to about 800,000 deaths annually.

In 2015, the largest number of deaths attributable to pollution occurred in India and China, with an estimated 2.5 million and 1.8 million deaths respectively. Other severely affected countries include Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya.

Beyond the massive human toll, the authors of Thursday’s report also focused on the financial toll caused by pollution-related health problems.

Until now, people haven’t recognized what an incredible hit pollution makes on the economy of a country,” Landrigan said.

“Pollution control can stimulate the economy because it reduces death and disease.”

They estimated the hit to national budgets at about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product in low-income countries, compared to about 0.5 percent in developed, high-income countries.

In addition, nations facing crippling pollution tend to spend much more on health care to treat diseases related to the problem.

And the warming of the Earth’s climate is likely to fuel more deaths in the absence of international action, she said.

Climate change is going to exacerbate the very problems that are identified in this article. There will be more contagious and infectious diseases.

There will be more lives lost, more injuries, if we don’t identify a path that gets us out of the hole that we’re in,” McCarthy said.

What people don’t realize is the instability that results from poverty, the instability that results from migration as a result of climate change.

The startling conclusion that pollution accounts for 16 percent of deaths worldwide is, of course, an estimate.

But the findings build on previous studies, including a 2016 report from the World Health Organization, detailing the extent to which pollution represents a public health crisis.

If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,” then-WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said last year.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Evolution Of Forests And Trees In Devonian Period

The vascular plant emerged around 400 million years ago and started Earth’s forest-building process during the Silurian geologic period.

Although not yet a “true” tree, this new member of the terrestrial plant kingdom became the perfect evolutionary link (and the largest plant species) with developing tree parts and considered the first proto-tree.

Vascular plants developed the ability to grow large and tall with massive weight needed for the support of a vascular internal plumbing system.




The First Trees

The earth’s first real tree continued to develop during the Devonian period and scientists think that tree was probably the extinct Archaeopteris.

These tree species followed later by other tree types became the definitive species comprising a forest during the late Devonian period.

As mentioned, they were the first plants to overcome the biomechanical problems of supporting additional weight while delivering water and nutrients to fronds (leaves) and roots.

Entering the Carboniferous period around 360 million years ago, trees were prolific and a major part of the plant life community, mostly located in coal-producing swamps.

Trees were developing the parts that we immediately recognize today. Of all the trees that existed during the Devonian and Carboniferous, only the tree fern can still be found, now living in Australasian tropical rainforests.

If you happen to see a fern with a trunk leading to a crown, you have seen a tree fern.

During that same geologic period, now extinct trees including clubmoss and giant horsetail were also growing.

Our Present Evolutionary Forest

Few dinosaurs ever made a meal on hardwood leaves because they were rapidly disappearing before and during the beginning of the new “age of hardwoods” (95 million years ago).

Magnolias, laurels, maples, sycamores and oaks were the first species to proliferate and dominate the world.

Hardwoods became the predominant tree species from mid-latitudes through the tropics while conifers were often isolated to the high-latitudes or the lower latitudes bordering the tropics.

Not a lot of change has happened to trees in terms of their evolutionary record since the palms made their first appearance 70 million years ago.

Fascinating are several tree species that simply defy the extinction process and show no indication that they will change in another dozen million years.

Ginkgo was mentioned earlier but there are others: dawn redwood, Wollemi pine, and monkey puzzle tree.

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Too Much Big Data May Not Be Enough

In the quest to mine and analyze meaningful, reliable, and useful data from the burgeoning plethora of electronic and online sources, healthcare organizations can allow the big picture to overshadow many underlying and valuable components contributing to patient care improvement.

The clinical data and diagnostic images in radiology information systems (RIS) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) remain two examples.

For clinical imaging and radiology executives, these visual clues and cues are necessary for effective, efficient decision support.

Certainly a growing number of manufacturers and information technology companies recognize this – even if many healthcare providers have not yet reached the point where they can tackle the necessary underlying infrastructure beyond the planning and strategic stages.

As a result, they’re offering providers a light at the end of the tunnel.




The latest generation of reporting capabilities can help improve the utilization of imaging data for diagnostic decision making,” says Cristine Kao, Global Marketing Director for Healthcare Information Solutions, Carestream.

An NIH study concluded that oncologists and radiologists prefer quantitative reports that include measurements as well as hyperlinks to annotated images with tumor measurements, for example.

A report by Emory and ACR shows eight out of 10 physicians will send more referrals to facilities that can offer interactive multimedia reporting – citing the ability to better collaborate with radiologists.

Connecting all of the technology and tools remains important, too, for a visually rich information view, according to Todd Winey, Senior Advisor, Strategic Markets, InterSystems.

For the clinical and diagnostic data to play a more valuable role in patient care improvement, these trends need to be accelerated, Winey insists, which isn’t without challenges.

VNAs remain only marginally deployed,” he laments. “Many of the advances in radiology information systems and PACS have been focused on productivity improvements for radiologists and are not yet fully supporting advanced interoperability.

Kao agrees with the foundational importance of a VNA but adds that it shouldn’t stop there.

Depending on an organization’s capabilities, imaging data must be accessible to more than just one clinical segment to be included as part of the decision support process, according to Winey.

Kao says she fully anticipates future reporting functions may include “more intuitive searching capabilities that will link pertinent patient information for a specific condition or disease, even if previous reports did not include the specific word involved in the search command.”

“The goal for enhancing the entire diagnostic process is to provide clinically relevant information when and where it’s needed.”

“New advanced reporting techniques provide information that can lead to improved decision support and diagnostic outcomes.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Each Time You Recall An Event, Your Brain Distorts It

Remember the telephone game where people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the next person in line?

By the time the last person speaks it out loud, the message has radically changed. It’s been altered with each retelling.

Turns out your memory is a lot like the telephone game, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event.

Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time. The Northwestern study is the first to show this.

A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.




Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”

Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted,” she said. “After that it keeps going downhill.”

The published study reports on Bridge’s work with 12 participants, but she has run several variations of the study with a total of 70 people.

Every single person has shown this effect,” she said. “It’s really huge.

The reason for the distortion, Bridge said, is the fact that human memories are always adapting.

Memories aren’t static,” she noted.

If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.

For the study, people were asked to recall the location of objects on a grid in three sessions over three consecutive days.

On the first day during a two-hour session, participants learned a series of 180 unique object-location associations on a computer screen.

The next day in session two, participants were given a recall test in which they viewed a subset of those objects individually in a central location on the grid and were asked to move them to their original location.

Then the following day in session three, participants returned for a final recall test.

The results showed improved recall accuracy on the final test for objects that were tested on day two compared to those not tested on day two.

However, people never recalled exactly the right location.

Most importantly, in session three they tended to place the object closer to the incorrect location they recalled during day two rather than the correct location from day one.

Our findings show that incorrect recollection of the object’s location on day two influenced how people remembered the object’s location on day three,” Bridge explained.

Retrieving the memory didn’t simply reinforce the original association. Rather, it altered memory storage to reinforce the location that was recalled at session two.

The results revealed a particular electrical signal when people were recalling an object location during session two.

This signal was greater when the next day the object was placed close to that location recalled during session two.

When the electrical signal was weaker, recall of the object location was likely to be less distorted.

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant BCS1025697 and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health grant T32 NS047987.

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Adobe And Stanford Just Taught AI To Edit Better Videos Than You

Just one minute of video typically takes several hours of editing — but Stanford and Adobe researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program that partially automates the editing process, while still giving the user creative control over the final result.

The program starts by organizing all of the footage, which is often from multiple takes and camera angles. Those clips are matched to the script, so it’s easy to find several video options for each line of dialogue.

The program then works to recognize exactly what is inside those clips. Using facial recognition alongside emotion recognition and other computational imaging effects, the program determines what is in each frame.




For example, the program flags whether the shot is a wide-angle or a close-up and which characters the shot includes.

With everything organized, the video editor then instructs the program in just how the videos should be edited using different styles and techniques the researchers call idioms.

For example, a common style is to show the face of the character during their lines. If the editor wants that to happen, he or she just drags that idiom over.

The idioms can also be negative. For example, the idiom “avoid jump cuts,” can be added to actually avoid them, or negatively to intentionally add jump cuts whenever possible.

The editor can drag over multiple idioms to instruct the program on an editing style.

In a video demonstrating the technology, the researchers created a cinematic edit by using idioms that tell the software to keep the speaker visible while talking, to start with a wide-angle shot, to mix with close-ups and to avoid jump cuts.

To edit the video in a completely different, fast-paced style, the researchers instead dragged over idioms for including jump cuts, using fast performance, and keeping the zoom consistent.

Editing styles can be saved to recall later, and with the idioms in place, a stylized video edit is generated with a click. Alternative clips are arranged next to the computer’s edit so editors can quickly adjust if something’s not quite right.

The program speeds up video editing using artificial intelligence, but also allows actual humans to set the creative parameters in order to achieve a certain style.

The researchers did acknowledge a few shortcomings of the program. The system is designed for dialogue-based videos, and further work would need to be done for the program to work with other types of shots, such as action shots.

The program also couldn’t prevent continuity errors, where the actor’s hands or a prop is in a different location in the next clip.

The study, conducted by Stanford University and Adobe Research, is included in the July issue of the ACM Transactions on Graphics Journal.

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Take A Look At Our Cosmic Neighborhood

Due to the protective shielding of dangerous Galactic Cosmic Rays provided by a heliosphere or astrosphere, these structures are important for the planets that orbit the respective stars.

Only over the last 15 years, we have been able to detect the first astrospheres and planets around other stars (exoplanets). Graphic of the most immediate environment around the Sun, our cosmic neighborhood.




The locations of known astrospheres and exoplanets are indicated, while we anticipate that many more are present and just awaiting discovery.

The nearest star, alpha Centauri has an astrosphere, and we know of at least two cases where we have detected both an astrosphere and exoplanets.

These systems are truly analogous to our system in which the heliosphere shields a diverse planetary system.

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How Do Dogs Smell Fear?

The portion of the canine’s brain that is used for sorting out smells is up to 40 times the size of that same part of the human brain.

As for fear, being frightened can make humans sweat, an odor that a dog can easily identify.

Then there is adrenaline and associated hormones, which will pump through our bodies when we are are even a little nervous.

Just because we don’t know the “adrenaline scent” ourselves doesn’t mean that a dog won’t recognize it.

However, let me nitpick and say that being able to smell our sweat glands doesn’t mean a dog can literally smell the emotion of fear itself.




Most likely, playing a far bigger role in determining our level of fear is the canine’s outstanding ability to read our body language.

The dog feels our fear and senses we are scared just by watching us.

Dogs are very smart at figuring out our emotions. Anger, feeling threatened or being nervous cannot be hidden from a dog.

In fact, he may pinpoint your fears before you even realize them. People who are afraid of a dog often stare directly at it, probably in hopes of watching his every move.

But the dog may take the stare as a warning that he is going to be confronted, therefore becoming aggressive.

How do dogs smell fear? And can dogs even smell fear at all, in the strictest sense of the phrase?

The answer to these questions may never be known with certainty. But even though you’re an adult now, still choose to follow your parents’ teachings and not show your anxiety when approaching an unknown dog.

Whether your uneasiness can be smelled or sensed, always try to keep my cool.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

More Than 90 Percent Of All Organisms That Have Ever Lived On Earth Are Extinct

As new species evolve to fit ever changing ecological niches, older species fade away. But the rate of extinction is far from constant.

At least a handful of times in the last 500 million years, 50 to more than 90 percent of all species on Earth have disappeared in a geological blink of the eye.

Though these mass extinctions are deadly events, they open up the planet for new life-forms to emerge.

Dinosaurs appeared after one of the biggest mass extinction events on Earth, the Permian-Triassic extinction about 250 million years ago.

The most studied mass extinction, between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods about 65 million years ago, killed off the dinosaurs and made room for mammals to rapidly diversify and evolve.




Scientists have narrowed down several of the most likely causes of mass extinction. Flood basalt events (volcano eruptions), asteroid collisions, and sea level falls are the most likely causes of mass extinctions, though several other known events may also contribute.

These include global warming, global cooling, methane eruptions and anoxic events–when the earth’s oceans lose their oxygen.

Both volcano eruptions and asteroid collisions would eject tons of debris into the atmosphere, darkening the skies for at least months on end.

Starved of sunlight, plants and plant-eating creatures would quickly die.

Space rocks and volcanoes could also unleash toxic and heat-trapping gases that—once the dust settled—enable runaway global warming.

An extraterrestrial impact is most closely linked to the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, one of the five largest in the history of the world, and the most recent.

A huge crater off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is dated to about 65 million years ago, coinciding with the extinction.

Global warming fueled by volcanic eruptions at the Deccan Flats in India may also have aggravated the event. Dinosaurs, as well as about half of all species on the planet, went extinct.

Massive floods of lava erupting from the central Atlantic magmatic province about 200 million years ago may explain the Triassic-Jurassic extinction.

About 20 percent of all marine families went extinct, as well as most mammal-like creatures, many large amphibians, and all non-dinosaur archosaurs.

An asteroid impact is another possible cause of the extinction, though a telltale crater has yet to be found.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event was the deadliest: More than 90 percent of all species perished. Many scientists believe an asteroid or comet triggered the massive die-off, but, again, no crater has been found.

Another strong contender is flood volcanism from the Siberian Traps, a large igneous province in Russia. Impact-triggered volcanism is yet another possibility.

Starting about 360 million years ago, a drawn-out event eliminated about 70 percent of all marine species from Earth over a span of perhaps 20 million years.

Pulses, each lasting 100,000 to 300,000 years, are noted within the larger late Devonian extinction.

Insects, plants, and the first proto-amphibians were on land by then, though the extinctions dealt landlubbers a severe setback.

Today, many scientists think the evidence indicates a sixth mass extinction is under way. The blame for this one, perhaps the fastest in Earth’s history, falls firmly on the shoulders of humans.

By the year 2100, human activities such as pollution, land clearing, and overfishing may drive more than half of the world’s marine and land species to extinction.

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Pass it on: New Scientist